Archive for May, 2010

Designing Features Part V

Posted in EVE Online on May 26, 2010 by cailais

Part V! Ah well, its patch day…

If you conduct criminal activities there are likely to be consequences – provided you are caught of course.  In order to develop out the theme of smuggling I introduced an idea a post or so ago that ‘contraband’ is something illegal in some fashion and that includes stolen items. The reason for that is because I see ‘crime’ in EVE in homogeneous terms – smuggling boosters, stealing ore, podding someone they’re all ‘crimes’ and I’ve participated in all of them at some stage or another.

Currently in EVE if you get caught by NPCs “smuggling” you get forced to either hand back the goods, or go home in a concord induced pod.  Theft results in a flagging you against your victim as does violent aggression at least for a time. For the purposes of this exercise assume that the normal flagging / aggression system works as normal with the following additions:

Stolen goods act like contraband (see the previous post) – whilst theyre in your cargo hold there’s a risk(increasing over time) that they will no longer be concealed from the authorities.  Once this occurs two things will happen.

1. You suffer a security rating penalty (a relatively small one)

2. A Warrant is issued at each station in your constellation. OR

3. You’re in Null Sec, in which case nothing happens as this is an un regulated area of space.

Warrants appear in the Bounty Office of a station.  Here they can be collected by would be Bounty Hunters.  Each Warrant provides Kill Rights to the Bounty Hunter – he can attack and destroy the fugitives ship and POD anywhere without penalty. The Warrant also provides a ‘last known location’ which is where ever our fugitive happened to be when the Warrant was issued.With the limited ‘last known location’ information the BH now has to seek out the Fugitive. Its worth noting that the only information publicly visible through the Bounty Office is “Fugitive Last Seen in XXXX’ so you cant expect to leave an alt in a Bounty Office to collect your mains Warrant. The way I would like this to work would equate to blood hound following a scent.  Over time that scent will fade, allowing the fugitive to potentially escape. This is how I see this working:

Initially the BH will be able to see the recent (last 30 minutes) gate activations of his target fugitive in the region he is currently in – as per the statistics on the universe map.  After that 30 minutes the “gate activation” map data increases its time lag to the last 2 hours, then 4 hours, 8 hours, 16 and finally 24 hours. After 24 hours the trail has ‘gone cold’ and no further information can be gleaned from that source.  Of course that doesn’t include worm holes or Jump Bridge / Covert Cynos, meaning a well supported or stealthy fugitive can potentially go off the grid – at least to an extent. Nor does it prevent a BH using traditional locator Agents.

“That all sounds great Cailais, but as a Bounty Hunter how am I getting paid!?”

Glad you asked. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned player submitted Player donated bounties, and that’s for a very good (& possibly controversial) reason. There aren’t any.

“WHAAT?!”

Yup. You see the reason Ive decided to remove them entirely is because they’re unnecessary and introduce to many problematic issues in terms of Alts and so forth.  They’re unnecessary because you dont need a player allocated bounty to create a fugitive: it doesnt add any additional game play because ultimately if you want revenge on another player you can hire mercs or anyone else for that matter through normal social interaction. It doesn’t need a mechanic behind it.  So how does our erstwhile Bounty Hunter make a living?

First off the BH doesn’t take any standing hit, so he can collect the loot from a perished fugitive.  Additionally the Bounty Hunter is paid any insurance on the destroyed vessel: not the victim.  Secondly if he collects the corpse as a result of a pod kill he is paid the value of that players Clone at time of podding.  Admittedly that might not be a vast sum of ISK but if the ship is uninsured its at least some recompense. Critically this process cant be abused by using an Alt for ‘self claiming’ as as a player you’ll only get back as much as you lose – a net gain of Zero.

For the final Part VI of this journey I will try and add a little more numbers and perhaps a flow chart to describe the process.  There are also a couple of sketchy areas that I need to go back and consider (no doubt you’ve already spotted those).  In the mean time of course any comments are welcome and I hope this short series has been a distraction from waiting on TQ to fire back into life 😀

C.

Designing Features Part IV

Posted in EVE Online on May 26, 2010 by cailais

Now Im getting into the nitty gritty of how all these themes and ideas actually turn into a game.  My brain is hurting as a result.  Luckily however Im a dev team of one, so I don’t need to fight my ideas through any board meetings 🙂

The first game play element is moving contraband (Im not too fussed what the contraband actually is at this stage).

Contraband is anything ‘illegal’, stolen goods or something restricted in a given Region.  Our would be smuggler drags the contraband item into his cargo hold.  Once in space the ‘cargo’ button on the interface begins to cycle with “damage”, much like an overheated module does.

The rate of cycle is dependant upon the Security Rating of the system our player is in, and the players sec rating.  The higher the system security /the worse the players security rating the faster the rate.  This indicates how long our smuggler has until he is discovered as a result of routine security sweeps. Once the cycle completes the ‘cargo’ button  glows or flashes to indicate the contraband is no longer concealed.

Unconcealed contraband results in our player being flagged as a Fugitive and a Warrant is issued to the stations of the constellation he is currently in.  Warrants will appear in the Bounty Office of these stations, but Ill come to that at a later date.

The game play elements of this are pretty self explanatory, with a player needing to judge how far he needs to travel to offload his contraband, how quickly he can do so and the security rating  of the systems he chooses to pass through. (I dont want to overcomplicate things here but modules / skills could be introduced in this or later features to help slow this ‘overheating’).

Contraband – what is it? Well I mentioned earlier that Custom Offices in PI have restricted items lists – things you cant ship down to a planet.  Again I want to avoid getting bogged down into PI so for now it will suffice to say that contraband are these items and can be delivered to a planet by means of a Black Market Hub. Contraband items would have some decent benefits to any PI infrastructure and other items such as Combat Boosters can also be traded in this way.

The Black Market Hub is a new PI structure in space. They dont appear on the overview like Custom Offices do but can be probed and found around any planet they have been set up on.  Each Black Market Hub consists of just buy orders (set by the owner) – simply deliver the requisite goods by off loading them into the Hub, transfer them planet side and “???? profit”.

So now we have contraband goods, a destination to take them to and a chance of being exposed. Our smuggler now has a market of greedy “planeteers” to smuggle to.  Next up we need to look at the consequences of discovery………

Designing Features Part III

Posted in EVE Online on May 26, 2010 by cailais

Continuing on my self appointed task of designing a feature for EVE Online I now have a good mental impression of what Bounty Hunting and Smuggling mean (to me at least). Considering these as two separate but related ‘mini-professions’ I have created a list of general concepts that could impact the game play element of the feature.

When I say ‘game play’ perhaps I should explain a little further.  Im specifically talking about in game mechanics that best relate to these mini-professions: i.e something tangible.  Anyone can of course load up a blockade runner and become a ‘smuggler’ in their imaginations at least – the ‘game’ is the implementation of rules and effects within the universe.

Smuggler Concepts:

Drugs runner – running, fleeing, evasive, pursued, contraband, criminal, off grid, fencing.

Bounty Hunter Concepts:

Hunters, scent, bounty, piracy(?), pursuers, freelance, hunts fugitives, warrants.

Ok, so what does this mean in game play terms?  First off Smugglers. Clearly the mechanics need to provide for the ability to evade discovery for the Smuggler, so someone also needs to be actively searching for them.  The evasion element might be skill based, but that’s quite close to the current (broken) system so Im thinking it should be more closely aligned to player skill – selecting the correct route, and opportunity in time to collect or make a drop off?  Perhaps knowledge of routes or ‘smugglers coves’ come into play here?

Also smugglers, quite obviously, need something to smuggle and a destination.  Tyannis offers an interesting new element in terms of the PI Customs Office (which even has a list of contraband items, including rather oddly: walnuts) – interesting!

Bounty Hunters are searching for fugitives so clearly we have a need for some form of mechanism to allow them to seek out their prey, perhaps with limited information initially which they can build through investigation.  Id rather get away from the current system of ‘oh look theres a criminal! pew pew!’ which doesn’t incorporate that sense of ‘hunting’ a target down.

These guys also expect to be rewarded, theyre not doing it out of just a love for the job, which has its own inherent problems.  The ‘warrant’ concept suggests that Bounty Hunters are at least partially regulated: they need some form of approval to do their task. Finally I have the legacy system to consider: most EVE players expect Bounty Hunters to pursue Pirates – in fact any criminal.

Some draft game play mechanics then:

Hunting & Evasion – a mechanism for both hunter and target visually see how close / high their target or threat is.

Deception – concealing the transport and delivery of contraband goods

Warrants – Possibly issued? Permission levels to kill/capture a criminal or fugitive

Penal System – Repercussions / consequences for being caught

There is also a fairly clear “time line” of events that need to be incorporated:

Player commits criminal act(s) —> Player is ‘revealed’ as a criminal/fugitive —> Warrent is issued —> Bounty Hunter pursues fugitive /  fugitive evades BH —> Fugitive Escapes OR Fugitive is ‘caught’ —> Fugitive is penalised AND BH is rewarded.

All pretty easy so far.  Next up though I need to go into the hard to solve details…..

Designing Features Part II

Posted in EVE Online on May 26, 2010 by cailais

Following on from my last post: I’m conducting a little experiment in game design – designing a feature for EVE Online.

Actually being forced to choose between a range of possibilities has actually proved slightly harder than I at first envisioned.  I knew what I wanted to see added, but would that be a “popular” feature amongst players? Some of the features certainly seemed to favour a particular type of player (industrial for example) over others, whilst others seemed so broad I wasnt sure what audience (if any) I could expect to reach.  I’m starting to see at least a glimpse into what CCP Devs must have to face at even the earliest stages of a project: so many ideas not enough time.

I’ve settled on Bounty Hunting & Smuggling Vers 2.0.  Ok, ok these are exactly ‘new’ features but as far as I’m concerned the current iteration are so useless as to be non-features at any rate (at least that’s how I justified it to myself 🙂 ).

So, starting from a blank sheet Ive decided I need to do some research and generally ‘throw down’ a whole pile of ideas.  Well “ideas” is perhaps the wrong term – more a case of broad concepts: what are bounty hunting & smuggling? Do my pre conceptions differ from others? What sources of inspiration are out there and how well do they translate into EVE’s Universe?  No stats or figures here as I see this as an exploratory stage hopefully if I get this nailed Ill be saving myself some extra work at a later date and again help me channel this broad concepts into some thing more focused.

First off bounty hunters…like this one?

K. Moving swiftly on.

Visually both bounty hunters and smugglers have been quintessentially defined by Star Wars – think of a sci fi smuggler and his nemesis and Han Solo vs Bobba Fett are pretty much inescapable.

But there are a few historical examples out there:

Forerunner of another well known ship?

Broadly speaking then bounty hunters hunt criminals – although quite how extreme the crime has to be is open to debate.  And they expect to get paid for doing so.  What’s also quite apparent is that Bounty Hunters operate on the very fringes of the Law, theyre Mercs for want of a better term and simply because they bring the criminal to justice does not necessarily imply that they are the ‘good guys’.  Smugglers on the other hand are criminals but, as is the case with their alter egos the bounty hunters, its not completely a black and white picture.  Some smugglers deliver contraband – but its contraband people want and to them at least they could be seen as the ‘good guys’.

That ambiguity seems important somehow, and if possible I need to consider how that translates into EVE and what it means in purely “Game Play” terms.  Equally Bounty Hunters dont just hunt smugglers a la Star Wars.  They’ll pursue just about any criminal if that means they get a pay check at the end of the day.  Again that’s something to consider in detail.

Designing Features

Posted in Uncategorized on May 25, 2010 by cailais

Alongside my usual speculative ramblings I’ve decided to embark upon a little project:  Through the medium of this blog I will be designing a EVE Online game play feature.

Now I have always been fascinated by the idea at least of designing games, even as a youngster I would sit for hours scribbling down rules and concepts for board games that didn’t exist.  But just how difficult is it to come up with a new and unique feature for EVE?  I hope to find out.

First off I should point out there are some ‘minor’ limitations to this experiment.  To start with I’m no programmer, nor do I have any prior experience within the PC games development industry – so perhaps I should qualify this little venture to the realm of imagination rather than what is practically possible.

I have also chosen to apply a few fundamental ground rules for my proposed feature, to help channel it’s direction and prevent me from disappearing down too many rabbit holes.  I’ll list these here:

1. It should be a feature that is easily accessible regardless of how long a player has played EVE for, or where they are in the universe.

2. It should be scalable – so you can tinker with it on the surface, or delve into more complex elements.

3. It should be in keeping with the EVE Universe – dark, gritty and suitably “sci-fi”.

Where possible I will try and include relevant flow charts, data, diagrams and images – again I’m no artist so these may be way of what you would call ‘rather basic’.  I expect any data values (ISK cost, time, associated skill levels etc etc) to be rather rudimentary at least initially but I’ll try and make them as ‘balanced’ as possible.

Anyway, off to the notebook and lets see where my concept is going…a rough list of ideas:

Diplomacy Interface – Ability to establish formalised treaties, trade embargoes, sanctions and limited wars (or peace treaties). Pros – could be a nice addition for the otherwise vagueness of pacts and agreements between corps etc. Cons – really only practical at corp or alliance level, which conflicts with Rule # 1.

Population Management & Planetary Governance – set up your own governmental structures on a planet to control and coerce your NPC minions. Pros – something I think is missing from PI and would allow players to interact with Planets on a ‘non – industrial’ scale.  Cons – PI is pretty new and we dont know all of the ramifications of it yet, could be an expansion to soon.

Interbus – moving stuff by ‘magic’! Pros – likely to be of use to all. Cons – could disproportionally effect haulers and traders across eve? To high sec centric? Could be at odds with Rule # 1?

Smuggling & Bounty Hunting Ver 2.0 – Pros – a bit of a hobby horse for me, often lamented by players as a weak area of EVE. Cons – already ‘done to death’ by others on the forums??

Stores Fronts – run your own shop in EVE? Retail is something of a mixed bag in EVE, could we make it more personalised? Pros – almost existed at one point so definitely on CCPs radar. Cons – database issues abound, dropped by CCP for good reason?

Hmm.  A pretty wide ranging heap of stuff there.  I’m leaning towards either the ‘Store Fronts’ idea, or ‘Smuggling & Bounty Hunting Ver 2.0’.

Perhaps I’ll just toss a coin….

cYbERpUNk

Posted in EVE Online on May 18, 2010 by cailais

Themes and flavour:  EVE Online has a rich back drop to it and a unique style amongst MMOs, primarily because it has it’s own ‘IP’.  But translating that into something tangible ‘in game’ its not as easy as one might expect.  Whilst novels such as ‘The Burning Life’, chronicles and ISD news articles can all help to add to the feeling of immersion within EVE they can only go so far.

It was Casiella’s latest post on Ecliptic Rift that really prompted me to write this particular entry:  Casiella’s skill path is being based around a ‘cyberpunk’ theme, with specialisations in electronic warfare, criminal connections, hacking and the like.  Oddly Cailais has a number of similar skills which got me thinking if I had wittingly, or unwittingly, developed his character progression along a similar path.

Of course not everyone imbues their characters with a dollop of RP flavouring preferring instead to (using an old RPG term) Min/Max that capsuleer by selecting skills which are the most efficient for a particular task even if they sit at odds with any RP “persona”.  I expect the vast majority of players forgo even any pretence at RP and simply max out those specific skills they require.

But that doesn’t mean that immersion is irrelevant – after all would EVE have such a impassioned following if the game mechanics remained but the environment was hello kitty land? Probably not. We are, for the most part, drawn to EVE because it is a dark sci fi MMO in the style of movies such as  Bladerunner, or William Gibson’s / Ian M Bank’s novels.

Where  immersion falls down is when the background and themes don’t translate into the game itself.  A good case in point might be bounty hunting; here is a activity we can readily accept even expect within the EVE universe and yet the game mechanics that should support and enable it are woefully inadequate if not completely broken.

Combat boosters are another example – on entering the dark and corrupt universe of EVE we are delighted to find that not only can we consume narcotics but produce and trade them as well! Fantastic?! Well no.  Because we find our expectations muted when we discover their performance is rather lack lustre, they don’t result in addictive cravings for more or bouts of withdrawl symptoms and (if we’re being honest here) they just not all that commonly used.

Can we use hacking to gather information on a pilots location? Determine who’s on the other side of a star gate? Access a station facility normally denied to us? No.  We can open some cans, in much the same way we do when we salvage a can, or use archaeology. In this way our immersion is broken, we could as well be using ‘banana picking IV’ to open that can as any ‘Hacking’ skill.

The beauty of EVE is that, having it’s own IP, CCP can introduce and sculpt their own vision of what the level of technology is within that universe and how that technology interfaces with us soft fleshy pod pilots. CCP was resolute in saying that Incarna would not feature ‘in station combat’ or pvp not least because it could detract from creating a believable universe (without having blobs of players running around WOW style).  However I would suggest that such ‘in station’ environments offer a plethora of potential game elements in a cyberpunk style.

Perhaps from across a crowded bar you could hack into the mind of a fellow pilot? Review his combat logs? How much ISK does he have? What systems has he travelled recently?  Perhaps our victim could equally fight back with the requisite implants?

Can we expect our pod pilots to engage in Mind Clash duals in station? Or seek out boosters that skew their perceptions but allow them to ‘see’ tags sprayed on station walls or glyphs directing them to hidden clubs?

Not all of these ideas or variants of them will of course be applicable or even popular – I present them only to illustrate that even the best back story and lore needs to physically hook into the game via simple mechanics in some form or other in order to be truly relevant.  The recent news and implementation of Dev run Events has been very well received by the player base on the whole – and whilst there will always be some detractors I think that’s evidence of how much many player actually do want to immerse themselves more fully into the EVE Online universe.

C.

Death of a Thousand Cuts

Posted in Uncategorized on May 17, 2010 by cailais

Over at Letrange’s Eve Blog Letrange has been giving a great commentary on some of the more detailed ‘nut and bolts’ of Planetary Interaction (PI) from an industrial perspective.  Quite rightly he has pointed out that all star base and sovereignty structures from POS’s to tower guns will be manufactured substantially from PI materials.

Letrange of course is coming at this subject predominantly as an industrialist, and whilst he recognises the implications of this facet of PI (i.e to build a POS you’ll need “Planet Goo”) I don’t think he has quite gone far enough.  You see if you just take a few more steps down this path there is the obvious conclusion:

“To build sov structures you will need ‘Planet Goo’, there fore to gain sov I need to control planets”

Which then leads on to the more subtle implication:

If you disrupt the supply of ‘Planet Goo’ you can starve an alliance of Sov structures and erase its physical presence on the battlefield.

Now Im sure many of you reading this will think that little will change –  isn’t Planet Goo not just the same as any other resource that will be farmed in High Sec and jumped out to Null Sec? Well not quite.  We know that the more players ‘sharing’ the resources of a planet the less they will be able to draw from it.  This means that High Sec planets, and to an extent Low Sec planets, will be fairly inefficient to operate and run.  Null Sec Alliances therefore will be best served by acquiring there own ‘Planet Goo’ locally from planets in their own areas of influence.

These operations of course have the potential to be interdicted and disrupted through small gang warfare.  Admittedly that will not be a straight forward affair – after all blockade runners are tricky ships to catch and will be the most common vessel used to collect Planet Goo and ship it to the requisite manufacturing centres (either Stations or POS’s).  But they can, and will be caught and destroyed.

This quite possibly could herald a significant shift in tactical choices available to an invading force.  Currently removing an opponents POS or destroying a sentry gun or two is of no real significance.  The materials to replace these are readily available from the stable high sec NPC market. But they wont be in future.  Wars across the surface of EVE will radically shift the base price of the materials  being used to manufacture sov structures as demand for them increases.  Wars will also hinder and hamper the efforts of Null Sec dwellers in those regions to harvest and collect Planet Goo, causing a slight be crucial slump in supply.

What are the strategic ramifications of this?  Well its entirely plausible that many Null Sec Alliances could die a ‘slow death of a thousand cuts’ if they are prevented from easily scooping up their own Planet Goo to replace structures lost after larger battles.

That’s a radical shift from the current style of warfare which predominantly relies upon smashing an defenders structures with overwhelming force for the ‘quick win’ and a battle of attrition.

Of course as Letrange points out most, if not all, of the major players will be stock piling vast reserves of sov infrastructure and material, so dont expect an overnight shift but in the longer term (perhaps and most enticingly around the time when DUST514 arrives)  we can expect these reserves to be under pressure if not entirely depleted.

The first wars of PI and DUST514 are a way of yet, but when they arrive we can expect them to be amongst the most savage and most brutal EVE has ever seen.

C.